SEO Consultants: Stop Comparing SEO and PPC

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Many in the SEO community contend that pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a waste of money. Since PPC is about buying clicks from the search engine, and since SEO is about earning clicks from the search engines, many SEO consultants argue that PPC is just throwing money at a problem instead of working toward a solution.

While it is likely true that SEO has a better long-term ROI than PPC, the fact of the matter is that PPC advertising shouldn’t be compared to SEO. Why, you ask? Because PPC is advertising and SEO is marketing. Comparing the two is no more appropriate than comparing an iPhone 3G to a hunk of stone (as funny as that may be).


Let’s start by acknowledging that marketing is a process. If you’re a search engine optimization consultant, for example, then you’re probably a marketer because of your systematic approach to your craft.  Aside from optimized site structure, your most important tasks are:

  1. Working with your client to generate great content
  2. Leveraging that content to build links

By “leveraging,” of course, I mean using everything from old fashioned email link requests to directory submission to press releases to social media to get the word out about your client’s site so you can build links. As part of this link-building process, you will very likely use advertising to seed or promote your content.

Advertising, you see, is a tool we use in the marketing process – comparing advertising to marketing is like comparing flour to bread. It’s true that you can’t have bread without flour, but it’s also true that no one wants a  PB&J between two clumps of flour.

Therefore, when someone asks you to compare SEO and PPC, you’re making a mistake if you answer that question directly. If you start talking about how PPC is faster but SEO offers better long-term results, you start having to justify strategic spending, and pretty soon you’ve muddied the waters.

Instead, talk about how PPC is an advertising tool only. Like any form of advertisement, PPC can be effective in the right circumstances. However, advertising is not a be-all end-all approach to growing a business. To really become big, businesses need a marketing plan…and SEO is a great way to market.

By changing the direction of the SEO versus PPC conversation, you’re promoting strategic thinking and setting more realistic expectations about the SEO process. Everyone understands that strategies like SEO take time and require consistent effort, but that the rewards are almost always worth the trouble.

What PPC Should Be Compared With

Since PPC is advertising, the costs and return on a PPC campaign should be compared to other ad mediums like print, radio, and television advertising. In that light, PPC offers tremendous value. Compared to traditional media, PPC ads are more targeted, the ROI is considerably easier to track, and the cost is almost always lower.

In some cases, PPC advertising can also be compared to sales staff. Depending on the type of business, pay-per-click ads might be able to generate a sale. If, for example, you find that $40 of PPC ad spend consistently results in a sale, and if that sale earns more than $40 in profit, PPC has essentially become a profitable employee rather than a line item in a marketing budget.

SEO versus PPC: The Flawed Debate

Members of both the SEO and PPC communities find themselves being asked to debate their efficacy compared to the other, but engaging in that debate is bad for everyone involved. If a business owner becomes wholly dependent on advertising to generate revenue, they expose themselves to great risk when there’s a shift in the marketplace.

Conversely, if a business owner chooses to ignore advertising, they’re stunting the growth of their enterprise and likely missing out on some low-hanging fruit.

By debating the merits of PPC and SEO in a vacuum, all SEO and PPC consultants ignore the larger point: both SEO and PPC can help a business meet its goals, and that’s how the two should be evaluated.

Jason Lancaster

Jason Lancaster

Jason Lancaster is President of Spork Marketing, a Denver Internet marketing company specializing in search engine optimization, marketing, and web design.
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  • Prashant Kumar Pracheta

    Hi Jason, Great job. It is very informative article. I do agree with you.

    • Jason

      Thank you.

  • online coupons

    Well nice way of comparison..lolz

  • Mike Roberts

    Maybe its because I’m new to SEO but my first impression was the SEO and PPC complement each other really well not that there was some sort of clandestine internal struggle between the two in order to justify the existence of each other. Of course, now when asked to explain the differences I will have a much more intelligent answer than previously.

  • Alyasha

    Its true that two are different and that PPC is an advertising tool. I also think its true that PPC complements SEO , as advertising complements marketing efforts. Both can be good for company growth, and both need to be implemented for continued success. This simple topic is confusing for many people.This post has great way of explaining it.

    • Jason Lancaster


  • Jeff Kryger

    This is a great article, and I like the comparison. Well presented. I will use this in my future discussions for sure!

  • Alex J

    To be fair, I wasn’t defending SEO or comparing to social media. My point is actually the opposite. That these two marketing channels should never be an “either or proposition” and that with every passing day SEO and social media become more and more interrelated

    • Jason Lancaster

      Alex – I didn’t intend for this article to be some sort of rebuttal to something you said or did. It was written weeks ago. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Jason, you summed it up perfectly with-
    “By debating the merits of PPC and SEO in a vacuum, all SEO and PPC consultants ignore the larger point: both SEO and PPC can help a business meet its goals, and that’s how the two should be evaluated.”

    Most of the companies I work with are pretty large and have been “…doing some PPC keyword bidding” in-house. Usually they have a marketing person running the campaigns and they’re pretty messy. “Campaign #1” & “Adgroup #1” type garbage. Using no matching options and of course the content network is always “ON.”

    Our firm is full service “Search Engine Marketing”, which basically means we do PPC and SEO. SEO typically gets us in the door and PPC is a great add-on service. And I have absolutely no problem comparing the two.

    • Jason Lancaster

      Robthespy – I hear you. We offer both services as well, but I wrote this article because I often hear SEO or PPC consultants say that an SEO person shouldn’t do PPC, or vice versa…and I think that’s just silly. There are far more similarities between SEO and PPC than there are differences, and frankly I think any SEO person should be practiced in PPC or vice-versa (at least at some minimum level).

  • Virtual office assistant

    Great analysis and like it very much. Thanks for sharing and will definitely be using it.

  • Bharathi

    What a excellent article. Being a SEO, i was just wondering why people are spending too much on PPC type programs. But after reading this article, I can understand both are equally important. SEO brings gradual progress with long term ROI whereas PPC brings fast progress with some short term ROI. However, PPC can be made long term by gradually paying for it. Both of them come hand in hand.

    • Anonymous

      The longer you run a PPC campaign, the more profitable it should become.

      Assuming it’s a viable avenue in the first place.

  • Alan Mitchell

    I think PPC and SEO should be evaluated based on their marginal profitability. As long as both are delivering a good return on investment, it makes sense to have both running simultaneously.

  • Michael Real

    Very nice comparison, I must say! LOL That hit me hard! lol Thansk for sharing the article here. This is really true.

  • Anonymous

    Truly agree Jason..! SEO cannot be compared with pay per click

  • Brandignity

    I think it is important for companies to really explore both. Traffic and visitors come from many different angles so you have to be visible in multiple areas for things to work how they should.

  • Dave

    Great stuff. I like to try an example with people as well; if a $10 sale comes from SEO and costs $1 and a profit of say $6 You should do that all day long. If a PPC sale costs $4 for a $10 sale and a $3 profit you should do that all day long too. You make more money doing both!

  • Chris Wray

    I can’t remember the increased click through rate when you appear in sponsored and natural but it is worth something (most of the additional clicks of course go to the natural result). That is one reason to do both.

    The analogy I use is do you want to rent or buy? Get in/out quick with PPC/renting, or go with a long term investment approach SEO/buying. Or do both for the aforementioned.

  • variable data printing

    I recently heard the stat from google themselves – 83% of people, when searching for a product or service online, select businesses organically. If this is true, businesses, on average, can gain 5 times more business through SEO than with PPC.

  • Rubber Stamp

    I expect PPC and SEO should be evaluating based on their contiguous productivity. As sustained as both are transport a satisfactory tribute on deal, it makes power to believe both active concurrently.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe it’s because I’m new to SEO, but SEO and PPC was my first impression complement eachother really well that there is no secret internal conflict between the two to eachother for some sort of existence was justified. Of course, now when asked to explain the differences that I will answer more intelligent than before.

  • Seo articles

    Agree With You. comparing Organic And PPC. in a survey it is acknowledge that 75% loyal visitors come from organic SEO not ppc. ppc has always a limited traffic. so Organic seo rocks

  • SEO bangalore

    SEO is different from PPC,I agree to this article please stop comparing.

  • Shyam


    I am glad that I read your article…it puts this debate to rest!
    I was at a crossroad to make up my mind to choose between the two..but no more.

    Thanks a lot of coming up with this brilliant stuff!

  • Press

    Very good 

  • Flow Simple

     Love this article. Your humor in this article reminds me of Ian @ Conversation Marketing. I’m amazed at how many SEO won’t touch PPC with a 10-foot pole, and there’s so much insight in PPC data that is so useful, if not more accurate and better research to fuel SEO work.